Sunday, March 24, 2019

Living on the Edge

By James M. Jackson

In previous blogs I mentioned moving my winter residence from the Savannah area to Madison, Wisconsin. It hasn’t been a smooth move, and the latest hitch is one I never expected. It has the potential for showing up in a story sometime.

Our place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is fifteen miles from where you can buy anything. Fourteen of those miles are gravel or dirt roads maintained by the logging companies or by private property owners. When I filed a building permit for our unimproved cabin (1999), I had to certify that I understood no town or county services were available where I lived before I received the permit. Ditto when I built our house in 2005.

There is no rural free delivery out by me. I am allotted a free post office box in Amasa, the village that’s fifteen miles away. That makes my mailing address easy and anonymous—perfect for an author. I can use that PO Box for most things, but many governmental and banking rules require a physical street address. That’s a problem.

I purchased a fire number[i] so we would have one. In Iron County, Michigan they determine the number based on the distance your property is from the start of the road and whether you are on the right or left side of the road. Our dirt road had a name, so we were almost there. What town/village to use was another issue. One choice is to use Amasa, where our post office is. That works for most things because the postmistress knows us and sticks any mail with our names into our box. Even when she’s on vacation, the substitute gets that right. That’s why my official street address uses Amasa, but it leads to occasional problems.

Voting, for example. We live in Crystal Falls Township; Amasa resides in Hematite township. Michigan requires a photo ID to vote. I use my passport, which has no address, but has my full name and a recognizable picture. The banks are a bigger problem. When they check my address on the USPS database, it doesn’t show up. What will work is to use Crystal Falls Township.

That’s Jan’s approach and that’s what’s on her driver’s license. But, the zipcode for the township is not our mailing zipcode, which means any mail addressed to her at that address may take a long time to arrive, if it ever does.

Early on, the Crystal Falls library challenged me when I tried to renew my free library card because Hematite Township has their own library, and their residents must pay to use the Crystal Falls library. Despite my having paid property taxes for years to Crystal Falls Township, they were sure I didn’t know where I lived. I made them call the Crystal Falls Township offices to confirm I was a resident. That’s no longer a problem: one advantage of being a published author.

The US Postal Service has a wonderful online service for forwarding mail that works for temporary or permanent changes. It costs $1.05. We’ve used it successfully for years in forwarding summer mail from Savannah to the UP. When we want to forward winter mail from the UP, we chat with our postmistress and she fills out the form at no cost. We’ve never had a hitch with the system.

When we moved our winter abode from Savannah to Madison, we had to permanently forward Savannah mail and change the forwarder from Amasa so that mail comes to Madison rather than Savannah. We filled out the Savannah to Madison forwarding online and called our Amasa postmistress to change that forwarding. One minor hassle is that because our place in Madison is new construction, the USPS system initially rejects the address. You must confirm you have the right address and check a box saying it was built within the last six months. We did that. The other minor hassle is that if your credit card uses an address other than the old or new address, then you must wait seven days for the forwarding to begin. That’s me: I use my UP address on all my credit cards.

Despite those hurdles, everything worked—until last week when a neighbor sent me an email. Some of my mail had been delivered to her. We have the same address except our last two digits are reversed. It gave me an opportunity to meet her. When I looked at the mail, all forwarded from Savannah, I saw the yellow forwarding sticker had her address, not mine.

I went online and discovered my forwarding used her address. Correcting what I figured was my dyslexic error, I ran into the problem of the system not finding my address. The only way I could correct the issue was to cancel the first forwarding and put in a second request. That cost another $1.05 and a seven-day delay. Who knows what will happen to the mail during that seven-day period? I figured it would eventually find its way to me. My penalty for screwing up the first time.

Then, early this week the neighbor brought over the next batch of mail. This time it was mail forwarded from my Amasa PO box. I called my Amasa postmistress, because I was “sure” I had received earlier forwarded mail from Amasa without a problem.

She had filled the form in correctly. Somehow the system decided my online change and her paper change were both wrong and “corrected” them by reversing the last two digits. She changed it back in the system to the proper address but didn’t have an answer for how we could prevent the system from “correcting” it again.

So, I schlepped to my Wisconsin post office (which, although I live in the city of Madison, my postal address is Verona, WI, sound familiar?) and presented them with the issue. After disbelieving us for many minutes, he looked at the system, saw we had presented the problem correctly, and had no idea how to fix it. He needed to talk to his supervisor, who was out. He took down all our information and my phone number. That, as I write this on Thursday, it where things stand.

This imbroglio has me thinking: What if a postal employee wanted to mess with someone who wronged them? What if an individual trapped in a situation similar to mine had mail they wanted to hide delivered to a neighbor? What if politicians used the exact-match address requirements some states have been putting in to prevent “voter fraud” to deny voting to a whole class of citizens caught in a similar Catch 22? Oh, the stories I may yet weave.

Oh, and I’m still waiting to hear from the post office.

[i] Fire numbers allow the local fire department to find an address in the middle of the woods far away from street signs. They are optional, which is why I purchased one when the UP became my official residence.

* * *
James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at


  1. What a horror story, Jim! I feel your pain. I do hope it all works out, but convincing a computer it's wrong will be an uphill battle as you know. HAL lives.

    Our Florida home was built by the developer of the airpark. They ran the early airpark development from their home office and used two addresses. Both the street address but differentiated by Lot 1 and Ofc. Post Office technology will only accept mail forwarding with those two addresses, the simple street address comes back as invalid.

  2. My grandparents rented a postal box in a little one room PO on Cape Cod in the thirties. My parents maintained the box until my mother died in 2005. For whatever legal reason, I wasn't allowed to place a permanent forwarding order on the box. However, because the postmaster had known my parents for many years, the order went through.

    You have my sympathies!

  3. Thanks Kait and Margaret for your stories.

  4. Your situation reminds me of the Native Americans on a reservation who could not register to vote because they did not have individual addresses.

  5. I live on the edge, too, Jim. It's nearly impossible to explain over the phone when ordering anything. Amazon is the best because UPS "gets Hatteras Island." But it's a pain no matter what.

  6. You could use this in a book -- Man Without a County. It could be a good method to live right in sight but appear to not be there.

  7. I think we WWKers have a possible anthology in the works. My grandfather was succeeded by my aunt in running a one person post office. When a cousin wrote home and didn't have a stamp, she wrote a small note in the corner of the envelope asking my aunt to deliver the letter. My aunt did, after getting the postage from my cousin's family. Hope your situation is as easily resolved, Jim.


  8. Even though I've moved several times, it wasn't far enough away from each place that I had any problem with my mail. I hope it all works out for you Jim, and I'm looking forward to reading your latest book, too.

  9. The post office moves in mysterious ways.

    My daughter used to live just north of Los Angeles, and any packages we sent her (from Pennsylvania) usually went via Alaska, and it would take a complaint to shake them loose and get them delivered. Which always eventually happened. Somehow, though, first class mail made it reasonably well.

    We used to have a rural delivery route and number, but they've changed it to a street address (which should emergency response much easier, should we ever need it.) In town, though, there is not street delivery, just post office boxes, which makes it difficult when places insist they won't send things to post office boxes.